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Open schooling as panacea for Nigeria’s army of out-of-school children

By Iyabo Lawal
26 September 2019   |   3:46 am
The Federal Government’s new initiative to tackle the menace of out-of-school-children is a welcome idea. It underscores the seriousness of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to revive a comatose primary education system in the country, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL.

[FILE PHOTO] UBEC, Hammid Bobboyi

The Federal Government’s new initiative to tackle the menace of out-of-school-children is a welcome idea. It underscores the seriousness of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to revive a comatose primary education system in the country, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL.

It was a sorry sigh that followed last October’s announcement by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) that Nigeria’s population of out-of-school children had increased from 10.5 million to 13.2 million and thus, the country was adjudged as having the highest number of such children in the world.

At the moment, Nigeria is the world’s capital of out-of-school children with more than 13 million of them anywhere but in the classroom. Yet, the government cannot be said to be looking the other way regarding the crisis that shakes the very foundation of the nation’s education. In desperation, the ministry of education accused parents keeping their children away from schools of trying to sabotage the government’s efforts at ensuring a better future for the younger generation.

The Education for All (EFA) world initiative launched in 1990 and ratified in 2000, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); especially those on education underscore the critical role that education plays in developing the knowledge and skills of people for a socially progressive society and a vibrant knowledge-based.

According to education researcher, Matthew Pagoe, no country can improve the quality of life of its people without investment in human capital. Investment in human capital has been found to “foster growth through technological creation, invention, and innovation as well as facilitating the uptake and imitation of new technologies”

It is against this backdrop that the Federal Government gathered its eggheads and brainstormed on how to deal with the menace of out-of-school children.

One leap in reducing drastically the rising number of Nigerian children not in school is introducing open schooling.

UBEC had promised that the programme would kick off across Nigeria’s 36 states before end of the year. The programme was launched on May 30 and is expected to receive technical support from the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada.

The UBEC boss, Dr. Hammid Bobboyi, pointed out that the Federal Government is thinking about putting these children in school.

“UBEC has other initiatives for better basic education in the country; the out-of-school issue is multi-directional and has to be solved through a multi-directional approach. We have education delivery for all programmes going on in the affected states to supervise them in the planning and to know how we can reach as many as out-of-school children as possible,” he said.

Bobboyi added that UBEC had a meeting with other agencies a few months ago on ways to tackle a large number of children that are out-of-school.

According to him, certain decisions were reached during the last meeting and will be implemented, particularly on how other agencies can key into it.

“This will identify the role they are going to play and we are going to synergise on how UBEC is going to coordinate the activities that will be involved. Open schooling programme will start before end of the year because a lot of things needs to be put in place as planned, we need to start as early as possible,” he said.

UBEC had said earlier in the year that it was working on what the cost elements involved in the programme would be but was sure that Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) would provide the country with technical support.

“Such support from the commonwealth will push this programme, but we also need to know which activities to be involved in, equipment needed to buy and other things we need to do.

“If all these are done, we can now disclose the estimated amount that the programme will cost,” Bobboyi explained.

Prof. Abba Haladu, Executive Secretary, National Mass Literacy, Adults and Non-formal Education (NMEC), noted that Nigeria has a large number of illiterates.

“We are all in this fight together and hope this meeting is going to give us fruitful deliberation that will bring about the importance of basic education. NMEC, UBEC, and other agencies are doing very well, but most stakeholders do not really know what we are doing. We want the public to know that we are really working towards the reduction in the number of out-of-school children and, we hope to end this soon,” Haladu admitted.

He was not alone. Akaaba Yakubu, a director at the National Teacher Institute (NTI) said, “The out-of-school children issue is a great challenge to the country, the NTI partnership with UBEC will no doubt ensure that majority of these children are educated.”

According to Parent Circle in India, many students are opting to go off the beaten track for various reasons when it comes to education.

“Open school boards in India and schools of open learning offer the flexibility and freedom to learn at one’s own pace. Homeschooled children who wish to take milestone examinations to gain admission into graduate or diploma programmes,” it said and added that children who are pursuing professional sports or other careers, children with special needs, those who are unable to grapple with a second language and those who opt-out of the rigours of the regular academic curricula, can all avail benefit from the open schooling system.

It noted: “Open learning is highly customised and based on choice and needs. A high degree of involvement and guidance from parents is required without them overstepping the child’s autonomy. Parents opting for open schooling for their child should be aware of their ward’s strengths, abilities, and interests.”

Just in July, Bobboyi announced while signing a Memorandum of Understanding the commitment of President Buhari’s administration to end out-of-school children’s menace.

“Those who are going to the open schooling system may be more technology savvy, at the end of the day, than those who even attended conventional schools,” the UBEC boss said of the new initiative.

Speaking on the issue, the President of the Commonwealth of Learning, Asha Kanwa, said, “Children will only learn what is relevant to them. Out-of-school children are not going to come back to learn number counting or literacy or anything, they want to learn something relevant.

“We did something in Trinidad and Tobago in a fishing village. There were out-of-school children there. They were taught how to make nets, how to fish, how to mend boats and they came back to school because they found that this was a curriculum which was relevant to them.”

She added that 25 out of the 53 commonwealth countries had implemented open schooling, reduced the cost of schooling and increased access for a large number of pupils.

For example, the National Institute of Open Schooling in India has 1.3 million students around the country. That is more than the population of some of the commonwealth countries. That is also the situation here in Nigeria where the escalation of enrolments is possible.

The first open school programme, according to Commonwealth of Learning, is believed to have begun in 1914 as correspondence lessons prepared at the request of a parent in Beech Forest in the Otway Mountains in Australia. By 1916, a special correspondence branch had been established. The success of the school programme led to the spread of open schools to several other Australian states and territories.

Open schools were then introduced in Canada in 1919 and in New Zealand in 1922. The popular view that open learning and distance education trickled down from higher education is unfounded. In the 1960s, distance education expanded massively across many countries, especially in higher education as open universities.

Meanwhile, distance education at the primary and secondary levels in open schools was confined to only a few countries. As a result, the contemporary view of distance education is primarily associated with the Open University. The open school movement, however, is an idea whose time has come. Many countries have now set up open schools for primary and secondary students for example, in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Zambia. Initiatives to establish similar institutions are under consideration in South Africa, Egypt, China, Nigeria, and many other countries. Although having begun much later than open universities, open schools are rapidly gaining ground and some of them have quite high enrolments. For example, the National Open School of India, which started in 1989, had a total enrolment of 250,000 students as of 1994.

In Nigeria, 60 per cent of the 13.4 million out-of-school children is girls. Only a fraction (17 percent) of 3.1 million nomadic children of school age have access to basic education despite decades of intervention. Similarly, only a small proportion of the ministry’s 2010 estimate of 9.5 million almajiri children have access to any basic education and an increasing number of displaced children (about one million) are being forced out of school in the insurgency-stricken states.

In the past, the Federal Government had proposed strategies for engaging with state governments in addressing the problems of out-of-school children. It also planned to raise the national Net Enrolment Rate (NET) by enrolling 2,875,000 pupils annually for the next four years as well as renovate schools destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents and construct additional 71,874 classrooms annually.

In addition, the government is expected to provide an additional 71,875 qualified teachers through the deployment of 14 percent of the new teachers to be recruited annually by 2050, Nigeria will need to recruit 400,000 teachers and raise the enrolment of girls in basic education schools by 1.5 million annually for the next four years.

Concerning basic education, the Federal Government admitted that 15 years after the launch of the UBE, pupils’ learning data remain unsatisfactory and mean scores in English, Mathematics, and life skills are very low and generally not up to standard. But almost two years after, there is no sign that implementation has commenced on the document.

In 2015, matching and non-conditional grants disbursements to 15 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) amounted to N68.4 billion while in 2016, grants disbursements to 29 states and the FCT amounted to N77 billion.

In 2017, the Federal Government provided a total of N95 billion to 24 states and the FCT and another N109 billion to 20 states and the FCT. Education minister, Adamu Adamu had lamented that despite all grants and special funds provided, things have continued to fall apart in trying to keep children in school.

According to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Nigeria has approximately 20 percent of the total out-of-school children population in the world. Adding to this challenge is the demographic pressure with about 11,000 newborns every day that overburden the system capacity to deliver quality education. In the northern part of Nigeria, almost two-thirds of students are “functionally illiterate”.

The states of Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, and Sokoto have shown commitment to improving their education systems, but they face severe challenges including high poverty levels, low enrolment, gender disparities, poor quality and relevance, poor infrastructure, and learning conditions.

An additional challenge is a direct threat to schooling, especially for girls, emanating from political insecurity through insurgent activities, and attacks on schools.